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Struggling Manchester United visits Burnley in EPL; Barcelona hosts Celta Vigo

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A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:

ENGLAND

Erik ten Hag quickly needs to turn Manchester United’s form around. Wednesday’s loss against Bayern Munich in the Champions League was a third straight defeat for his team and its fourth already this season. United is back in Premier League action on Saturday when it travels to Burnley.

Former Man City captain and now Burnley manager Vincent Kompany would love to get a statement win against United. Everton is also in need of a morale-boosting result when it travels to Brentford. Sean Dyche’s team only has one point this season and looks like it could be involved in another relegation battle.

Defending league champion City is at home to Nottingham Forest and looking to extend its 100% start to the campaign. Crystal Palace hosts Fulham and Luton is at home against Wolverhampton.

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FRANCE

Brest can claim first place in the French league if it beats struggling Lyon at home to move above fellow surprise package Nice. Lyon has yet to win a game in the opening five rounds, with two draws and three losses, and new coach Fabio Grosso will take charge of his first game after replacing the departed Laurent Blanc.

Brest, meanwhile, is looking for a fourth victory, which would put it one point ahead of Nice atop the standings after the sixth round. In the early game, Nantes hosts Lorient in a game between two teams in the bottom half of the standings.

ITALY

AC Milan is coming off a long week that began with a crushing 5-1 derby loss to city rival Inter Milan. Then came a scoreless draw with Newcastle at home in the Champions League.

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Now the Rossoneri need a win when they host Hellas Verona. Unbeaten Juventus, meanwhile, is well rested entering a visit to Sassuolo, with the Bianconeri not playing in Europe this year due to a UEFA suspension stemming for a false accounting case.

Lazio hosts Monza four days after goalkeeper Ivan Provedel scored a last-gasp equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid.

GERMANY

Bayern Munich can move above Stuttgart and into first place in the Bundesliga with a home win over Bochum, which has yet to win a game this season.

Bayern is coming off a 4-3 win over Manchester United in the Champions League and is looking to extend its unbeaten start to the season with a fourth league win in five matches. Hoffenheim also looks for a fourth win when it visits Union Berlin, while Borussia Dortmund hosts Wolfsburg.

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SPAIN

Barcelona looks to keep its momentum when it hosts Celta Vigo in the Spanish league in search of its sixth straight victory in all competitions. After opening the season with a 0-0 draw against Getafe, the Catalan club won four in a row in the league and started its Champions League campaign with a 5-0 rout of Antwerp on Tuesday.

Celta has one win, a draw and three losses. Girona hosts Mallorca in similar position as Barcelona, having opened with a 1-1 draw against Sociedad and then winning four straight in the league. In other matches, Sevilla visits Osasuna and Almeria hosts Valencia.

-AP

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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Sancho back in training with Man United after positive meeting with Ten Hag

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Jadon Sancho was back training with Manchester United for the first time in 10 months, with a club source confirming the winger and manager Erik ten Hag have resolved their differences following their public fallout last year.

Sancho and Ten Hag had a positive meeting at Carrington Training Centre and the two have decided to draw a line under last season’s drawn-out argument, the club source said.

The 24-year-old Sancho made just three appearances for United last season, spending the second half of the campaign on loan to Borussia Dortmund after his relationship with Ten Hag soured in September.

Ten Hag had left the winger out of his squad for United’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal, saying Sancho’s performances in training had not warranted a place in his team. Sancho immediately lashed out on social media, accusing Ten Hag of making him a “scapegoat.”

He was banished from the first team and trained with United’s youth squad before returning to his former club Dortmund in January, where he shone during their Champions League semi-final victory against Paris St Germain, earning praise from Ten Hag. Dortmund were beaten by Real Madrid in the final.

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“(Sancho) is a very good player… he showed why Manchester United bought him and he showed he represents a high value for Manchester United, which is good,” Ten Hag told reporters following Dortmund’s 1-0 win over PSG in the first leg.

“I’m happy for Jadon, for the performance, and we’ll see what is going to happen in the future.”

Sancho will not travel with the team to Norway for their pre-season opener against Rosenborg since he began training later than the other players but the club source said he would be available for selection after that.

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood replaces Ndidi at Leicester

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Wilfred Ndidi who has just left Leicester City will have another Nigerian blood replacing him.

Leicester has never been without a Nigerian since Ahmed Musa joined in 2016. Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho joined in 2017.

Another Nigerian blood, Caleb Okoli, a centre back, has just been signed from Italian  Serie A side Atalanta on a five-year contract. Born in Itali, Caleb Okoli is Igbo and Yoruba by descent.

The 22-year-old, who spent the last season on loan at Frosinone Calcio, represented Italy at the European Under-21 Championship last year.

“I think now is the right moment (for me) to make a step forward and a very big one. I’m very happy with the choice I made, so I’m very excited to start in the Premier League,” Okoli said in a statement. The clubs did not disclose financial details of the deal.

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